This is the least fun part of this series, in my opinion. Knowing yourself is dirty, heart wrenching, exhausting work.
There are two sides to this. One is the ability to face myself, head on – see the good and the bad. The second is being able to accept myself, including the parts that need changing.
(Perhaps no one is really good at this. That’s why we hire therapists.)
I can’t tell you how to do this, but the most useful question to ask, I’ve found, is what are you afraid of?
Fear makes us do things that just don’t make sense. There’s a lot of motivations for self-destructive behavior – selfishness, pride, anger. But the heart of these things is fear. Fear that we will not have or be enough, fear of being hurt, fear of failure, fear of losing someone’s love.
When my behavior isn’t really making sense, I can usually trace the root cause back to a fear.
Sussing out my fears is how I know myself. Taking them in my hands and working them out of my system is how I accept myself. Working down in the dirt and shit of my own soul teaches me patience, love, and compassion for both myself and others, if I’m doing it right.
An example – Last year, around this time, I acknowledged to myself that one of my biggest fears was religious community. In other words, I was afraid of church.
I came by this fear pretty honestly. I’d gone into several spiritual communities with an open and vulnerable heart, only to be told I was somehow unacceptable after building roots and relationships. I ask too many questions. I see things I’m not supposed to. And I’m a woman. (Hatred – and I do mean hatred – of women runs shockingly deep in some evangelical communities, my alma mater among them.)
The beginning of my healing was naming the wrongs perpetrated by these communities. But it left me in this yucky, half-healed middle ground. The really ugly, deep, necessary work began when I started asking myself – what am I afraid of?
The answer, which took a few years to obtain, was this: I was afraid that, since those religious communities found me unacceptable, God also found me unacceptable. (This is a common fear, I think.)
When I knew myself well enough to know what I was really afraid of, and then accepted it and was compassionate enough to start to work with it – that’s when the world opened up.
It led to questions like, what does my religion look like, if not like the communities I grew up in? What is my relationship with God? How does it work? What could cause it to stop working? How to I respond to other people in light of this relationship? What do I need from a religious community? What do I have to offer?
Knowing the questions to ask has made it possible to know my motivations and my obstacles. It’s made it possible to start to pull the shit I don’t need anymore out of my soul and leave it behind.
You know that feeling when you clean house? Like, donate things you don’t need, organize, scrub it down, and afterwards it feels like you can breathe again?
That’s how I feel after I’ve dealt with myself honestly.
Read the rest of the Success Is series here: